THE ROAD TO HAP­PI­NESS Ruby Wax leads the way on men­tal health

Af­ter 25 years of mak­ing us laugh, Ruby Wax re­cal­i­brated her ca­reer and switched from TV to be­ing a poster girl for men­tal health. Now it’s sci­ence, not jokes, that makes her smile

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

Meet­ing Ruby Wax is a slightly more sub­dued af­fair than you might ex­pect. She’s not lost any of her dis­tinc­tive Amer­i­can ac­cent, but she speaks in sur­pris­ingly hushed tones while en­thu­si­as­ti­cally chew­ing gum, like she’s let­ting you into a state se­cret.

We’re meet­ing be­cause Ruby has re­cently writ­ten a man­ual for life, en­list­ing the help and knowl­edge of a monk and a neu­ro­sci­en­tist. It’s Ruby’s third book – the pre­vi­ous two, Sane New World and A Mind­ful­ness Guide For The Fraz­zled, were best­sellers. In How

To Be Hu­man: The Man­ual, she looks at ways to bet­ter un­der­stand who we are as peo­ple, why we be­have in the way we do and how to find hap­pi­ness in to­day’s world.

Ruby has been a house­hold name in the UK since the Eight­ies when she fronted her own chat shows, at­tract­ing big-name guests, in­clud­ing Madonna, and Don­ald Trump. But it’s this se­cond chap­ter of her life that she’d much rather be re­mem­bered for. ‘I did 25 years of com­edy, and then it was time to reroute, so I went into sci­ence. But I use the two. I use what I learnt to do my shows and books, so it wasn’t a waste of time, it worked out pretty well,’ she says.

‘Peo­ple are in­ter­ested in sci­ence. You can’t re­ally ar­gue with this stuff, it’s the real thing and I would want to read that if I was the pub­lic,’ says Ruby. ‘I’d want to know, oh is that how my brain works, is that how dis­ease starts, is that how I get ad­dicted?

‘I think peo­ple are des­per­ate for in­for­ma­tion be­cause we’re too con­fused. What’s ex­er­cise? What ac­tu­ally kills your body and what’s good for it? All that stuff.’

So has she ex­pe­ri­enced a more pro­found sense of ca­reer achieve­ment since mov­ing into the men­tal health sphere? ‘I get more re­spect,’ she says. ‘And it’s deep with peo­ple, so that’s more sat­is­fy­ing than just hav­ing peo­ple laugh in your face.’

It has been a dra­matic rein­ven­tion. Af­ter speak­ing openly about her own de­pres­sion, Ruby be­came an am­bas­sador for men­tal health, us­ing her fame to open up an im­por­tant di­a­logue. She gained a mas­ter’s de­gree in cog­ni­tive ther­apy from Ox­ford Univer­sity in 2013, and was awarded an OBE for ser­vices to men­tal health in 2015.

Last year, she launched Fraz­zled Cafe, safe spa­ces where, as their slo­gan af­firms, ‘It’s ok, to not be ok.’ Ruby mas­ter­minded the fort­nightly meet-ups for peo­ple to speak openly about how they’re feel­ing. It’s not ther­apy, more like a se­ries of chats about men­tal health. So suc­cess­ful was the idea, Fraz­zled Cafe is now backed by M&S around the coun­try. Would she have liked some­thing like that to have ex­isted when she was younger? ‘I wish it had hap­pened to me, yeah,’ she says. Her daugh­ters, with hus­band of 30 years Ed Bye, are the new co­me­di­ans in the fam­ily, hav­ing fol­lowed in their mum’s foot­steps. Ma­rina and Maddy made their de­but at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val last sum­mer, so what les­son would she want to hand down to them? Ruby stops chew­ing her gum to care­fully con­sider her legacy. ‘Don’t blame other peo­ple, be­cause I al­ways did. For your lack of suc­cess. Or your un­hap­pi­ness. You can take that re­spon­si­bil­ity and switch it. It’s no­body else who’ll fix you,’ she says. ‘I’ve learnt that my brain’s plas­tic and I can break habits and cre­ate new ones. But that’s not a sur­prise. That’s sci­ence.’ And her sci­en­tif­i­cally proven ad­vice to the rest of us? ‘If you’re drink­ing cof­fee, taste it. If you’re on the com­puter and you feel your­self burn­ing out, or read­ing too many emails, take a breath. It’s all about notic­ing. A few times a day, fo­cus on your senses. A smell, a taste, or just un­der­stand where you are. Look at your kids, don’t just do it on au­to­matic pi­lot.’

◆ How To Be Hu­man: The Man­ual by Ruby Wax (Pen­guin Life) is avail­able now

Ruby En­dur­ing love: with her hus­band Ed Bye of 30 years,

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